Insurers Move to Mobile Apps to Track Drivers

New apps that auto insurers are using to track your car are sparking privacy concerns. NBC10 Investigative reporter Harry Hairston has the details. (Published Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016)

To save on auto insurance, some customers opt in to programs to have their driving habits tracked. In the past, customers were tracked through devices that plug in to their cars. Now, auto insurance companies are moving to a new landscape, tracking customers through mobile apps on their smartphones.

Corinne Buda enrolled in Progressive’s Snapshot program two years ago, and a device tracked her driving habits for 30 days. That device wasn’t connected to a GPS or an app. She says for her, it paid off.

“I'm paying a fraction. I pay 83 dollars a month for my car insurance. I was paying 180 something dollars a month,” Buda said.

A recent study from the Pew Research Center finds 37% of Americans find it ‘acceptable’ for auto insurance companies to monitor customers’ driving habits with a device inside their car. But privacy experts warn of new concerns as insurance companies use new technologies to track drivers.

Khaliah Barnes with the Electronic Privacy Information Center has questions about what the apps will have access to on consumers’ phones.

“Do these apps have access to your call information, whose texting, whether you're texting and driving?” Barnes asked.

The NBC10 Investigators scrutinized the privacy policies and mobile app ‘terms and conditions’ of four insurance companies – Allstate, Liberty Mutual, Progressive and State Farm. Three offer an app that tracks customers’ driving, and Progressive says its app will roll out later this year or early next year. It already launched a pilot app.

All four say they won’t sell your personal information, but that won’t stop some of them from giving it away.

“We know that insurance companies want that information and will have it, but who are the other entities? Law enforcement- what's the process there?” Barnes asked.

In the fine print for Allstate, Progressive, and State Farm, all say your information can be shared with third parties.

Allstate’s terms and conditions on its app says, “Data may be disclosed to third parties… and used in an accident investigation… you should not expect to retain any privacy or confidentiality related to your use of the application.”

Progressive’s privacy policy states your personal information can be shared for "our affiliates everyday business purposes", and customers can not limit sharing.

State Farm's terms and conditions on its app say your information may be shared with "third party service providers”.

Liberty Mutual says it won’t share any “personally identifiable usage data” to third parties.

Now, lawmakers are looking into the potential for a compromising of privacy rights. Senator Bob Casey says the issue of privacy and innovation is a challenge for lawmakers at the state and federal level.

“I’m going to be studying and have begun a review of this issue to see if there isn't a legislative remedy or at least a legislative measure that could speak to it,” Casey said.

Another concern is for drivers who don’t want to be tracked. They may end up paying more for the same coverage if they don’t opt in to programs like these. Buda says she would think twice if she was tracked through her phone.

“There’s too much information that’s vulnerable,” Buda said.

We reached out to Allstate, State Farm, Liberty Mutual, and Progressive:

Allstate: “Allstate’s Drivewise is a voluntary program that rewards customers for their safe driving behaviors. Protecting the privacy of our customers’ information is our top priority and Allstate is confident in the security of our Drivewise device and Drivewise mobile app programs. The Drivewise device and Drivewise mobile app utilize multiple layers of protection to maintain the confidentiality of the data collected and prevent unauthorized access.”

State Farm: "State Farm takes customer privacy seriously, including with our Drive Safe & Save Mobile app. We will continue to safeguard customer information, and we always strive to be a leader in the changing telematics landscape. For more information, please visit State Farm’s website for detail on our Privacy Policy and Information for Internet, Mobile, and Social Media Users."

Progressive: "You can find our Snapshot privacy statement here. We want to be transparent and clear with our customers and anything new with respect to our mobile app will be updated prior to the release of the final app."

Liberty Mutual: "Liberty Mutual values and respects our customers' privacy. We will not share personally identifiable usage data we collect with any third party except to service our customers' auto policies, for research, or as required by law."